Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

April 24, 2005

Since April is National Poetry Month . . .

I thought I'd speak for a moment about contemporary poetry. Many people have told me they don't like it because they don't understand it. It's enigmatic, it doesn't say what it means, and often it doesn't even rhyme or make any sense at all, etc. Plus, many Christians seem to be traditionalists at heart. A poem is supposed to rhyme, gosh darn it! I don't suppose I can ever convince these people that they're missing out on a whole lot when they miss out on the poetry around them. But here's a story that attempts to explain what cannot really be explained:


Let’s say you have this cousin who is going through “a rough patch” (as they say). Maybe his wife just left him or his business failed or he's just “trying to "find himself."” So you’'ve put him up temporarily in the spare room in the attic. He sleeps on a little cot, his clothes neatly folded in a suitcase lying open on the bare floor. In the morning he takes his laptop to Starbucks and socializes with friends he’'s never met. At dinner he tells you all about the one in Manilla and how he plans to go there someday, just as soon as he gets things straightened out in his life. Then he reads you the poem he wrote that day, every day a new one, enigmatic phrases flashing a strange light. The kids love him. They tell all their friends about their eccentric uncle. One day you come home to find a note on the refrigerator that says, "“Gone to Manilla. Will call.”" That evening, you climb the stairs to the attic and lay down in the cot just to be far away from everything for a while, and something from one of his poems blinks on momentarily in your mind. Not the words, just the feeling of the words, stark and strange like the look of things when the lightening flashes at night. You have the sense that many thousands of birds are flying southward above your roof, all of them migrating to the Philippines, perhaps. You wish he’'d call, if only to read you a poem, any poem, just so you could capture that feeling again. That feeling. It’s the feeling of the word “Manilla.” Not that you want to go there. Just that you want to hear it. You lie in the cot and say it again and again, Manilla, Manilla, Manilla. You think someday you’'ll write a poem. You think perhaps you already have.


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